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Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • Father to be tried for murder, child abuse

  • Judge Van Z. Hampton bound over 24-year-old Johnathan Villa-Ramirez on charges of first degree murder and child abuse Tuesday after a contested preliminary hearing.
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  • Judge Van Z. Hampton bound over 24-year-old Johnathan Villa-Ramirez on charges of first degree murder and child abuse Tuesday after a contested preliminary hearing.
    Jonathan Villa-Ramirez is being held without bond in regards to the July 2012 death of his son, 10-month-old Brandon Villa. Ford County Attorney Natalie Randall and Deputy County Attorney David Belling acted as prosecutors for the state. Villa-Ramirez was arrested July 25 in Texas County, Okla. by the Texas County Sheriff's Department on a warrant for child abuse issued by the Dodge City Police Department (DCPD).
    His son was taken to Western Plains Medical Complex July 22 with critical injuries and later airlifted to Wesley Hospital in Wichita. Former Ford County Attorney Terry Malone said the infant was kept alive on a ventilator while in the hospital. The charges against Villa-Ramirez escalated to homicide July 26 when the DCPD was notified of Brandon's death.
    In a contested preliminary hearing, prosecutors must convince the judge that there is probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and that the defendant committed the crime.
    Villa-Ramirez' wife Lisette was scheduled to testify but it was discovered just before the hearing began that she had left the country. The Ford County Attorney's Office may issue a material witness warrant for her arrest. To make their case, Belling and Randall called Detective Mike Robbins of the Dodge City Police Department as their first witness. Robbins testified about the search warrant he and another detective executed on the apartment Villa-Ramirez shared with his wife, Lisette.
    According to Robbins' testimony, Villa-Ramirez told police in Wichita that Brandon had fallen off of the washing machine and hit his head on the floor when Villa-Ramirez left the room to get baby wipes.
    The state also called Detective Virgil Miller of the Wichita Police Department as a witness. Miller interviewed Villa-Ramirez at Wesley Medical Center prior to Brandon's death. He testified that the defendant admitted he had lied to staff at Western Plains Medical Complex about what happened. Miller said Villa-Ramirez told doctors in Dodge City Brandon had a seizure and stopped breathing and never mentioned anything about fall.
    "He said he was concerned Brandon would be taken away and taken out of their home," Miller said explaining the reasoning Villa-Ramirez gave for lying.
    Miller also admitted, at the request of defense attorney Derek Miller, that he did not question Lisette Villa to back-up her husbands claim.
    Miler testified that the infant had suffered "abusive head trauma," a term often used when a child is not hurt by it's own volition. A third witness solidified Miller's claim.
    Katherine Melhorn, professor at KU-School of Medicine-Wichita certified in child abuse pediatrics, performed a consultation of Brandon at the hospital before his death. Through her examination as well as x-rays and lab tests, Melhorn said she was able to determine the infant had sustained a subdural hemorrhage and had rib fractures in various stages of healing.
    "The baby showed classic symptoms of shaken baby syndrome," she said.
    Melhorn also testified that Brandon was malnourished and was below the third percentile for his age. Her testimony also included two additional accounts, given by Lisette Villa, as to how Brandon was injured.
    "She told me Johnathan was tickling Brandon and the baby held his breath and quit breathing," Melhorn said. "Then she said the baby fell while Johnathan was undressing Brandon to give him a bath."
    Brandon had a documented history of breath holding spells, according to Melhorn's testimony. The final witness during the hearing was Dr. Erik Mitchell, a forensic pathologist who performed an autopsy on the infant. Mitchell said Brandon's injuries were not the kind seen in routine, sudden deaths of children or those who have died of a natural cause. He also said Villa-Ramirez's account of the infant's fall was not an adequate explanation for the injuries he observed.
    Miller found Brandon to have hemorrhages around his optic nerve sheaths, a common symptom of shaken baby syndrome. "He died as a consequence of non-accidental trauma," Mitchell said. "And that means it had to have happened at the hands of someone else."
    Villa-Ramirez's attorney Derek Miller challenged the charge of first degree murder against his client and said none of the presented testimony showed intent or premeditation. Judge Hampton refused Miller's request for the dismissal because the child's death took place during the commission of another felony, child abuse.
    The hearing ended with Hampton's decision to proceed to a trial on the charges. "The evidence here shows two indisputable facts," he said. "The first is that Brandon was injured by someone who caused or inflicted his injury. The second is that Brandon is dead. If you put the facts together, the state has established abuse took place and Brandon died as a result of the abuse."
    An arraignment for the charges against Villa-Ramirez will be set at a later date.
    Follow Abigail on Twitter, @Abigail_dcglobe.

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